OBITUARY : D. B. Gregor

If any man had the gift of tongues, it was D.B. Gregor. A classicist by training and profession, he was fluent in over 20 languages and read many others. He used Esperanto - the best-known of the world's auxiliary languages, designed to solve problems of international communication -in literary translation and original writing, and was one of the last to correspond in Esperanto's predecessor, Volapk.

He devoted much of his life, however, to the study of the minority languages and dialects of northern Italy, and was almost certainly the last speaker of all six Celtic languages. He was hero-worshipped in Friuli, a region in north-eastern Italy, for his championing of its language and its culture; but his modesty and the relative obscurity of his position as a schoolmaster combined to ensure that he never received in Britain the wider academic recognition he deserved.

A gentle, unassertive man, Douglas Gregor was nevertheless a passionate advocate of minority languages and a committed scholar. He wrote about Byron's knowledge of Armenian, discussed the texts of Greek tragedies, and translated two Sherlock Holmes stories into Dolomitic Ladin and its sister languages Friulan and Romontsch. He wasted neither paper nor time: he wrote an outline of Slovenian grammar on cardboard shirt-packaging and, had there not been room for a vocabulary list next to his shaving-mirror, he would no doubt have grown a beard.

He had become an Esperantist at the age of 13, and was active in the movement as an undergraduate. He was Editor of Brita Esperantisto and Biblia Revuo, and was elected to the International Academy of Esperanto in 1963. He was a painstaking editor and a reviewer of uncommon thoroughness and fairness. He published translations in Esperanto of Sophocles' Antigone and Oedipus Rex, and of many other shorter literary works.

His most important publications came in the years after his retirement. Romagnol: Language and Literature (1972) and Friulan: Language and Literature (1975) were both the first English-language grammars of their languages and each included an anthology with translations by the author.

Mad Nap: Pulon Matt followed in 1976, a 15th-century burlesque epic in Romagnol never before published. Celtic: a comparative study (1980) was the first detailed comparison of Breton, Cornish, Irish, Manx, Scots Gaelic and Welsh, in which Gregor chronicled the decline in Celtic speakers, examined the causes and described the struggle for survival. At the time there was only one other person familiar enough with all six languages to review the book. Romontsch Language and Literature (1982), the second work in his intended Ladin trilogy, described the fourth language of Switzerland. He had previously published Stralci (1968), a reader for students of Italian, and Verses and Versions (1969), a collection of his own poems and translations.

Gregor was particularly concerned with the preservation of threatened languages. "It is time," he wrote, "that languages were regarded as part of the ecological scene and the end of one of them felt as deeply as the extinction of a species." His learning was never dry, however, but enlivened by his sense of humour, a fund of good anecdotes and a love of company.

Douglas Gregor read Greats at Exeter College, Oxford, and then taught Classics and Modern Languages at Wellington School, in Somerset. He had recently left that job to study in France when the Second World War broke out. He found his languages in demand in the Intelligence Corps, where he served in Northern Ireland, Algeria and Italy. He was among the first to enter Florence and was twice mentioned in despatches.

During the Italian campaign he produced a volume of translations of poems of the Risorgimento and compiled the first dictionary of Friulan; more importantly, he also met his future wife, Lella, in Ravenna, which set the seal on his relationship with his favourite town and its language, Romagnol.

After the war, Gregor joined Northampton Grammar School, where he remained as Senior Classics Master until his retirement in 1969. He was always delighted to hear or receive visits from former pupils, and it was characteristic of his self-effacing nature that he invariably thanked visitors for finding time in their busy schedules to see him. His inspiration and influence will be felt for many years to come.

David Lilley

Douglas Bartlett Gregor, linguist, scholar, teacher: born Swansea 6 February 1909; married 1948 Graziella Gelosi (one son, one daughter); died Northampton 26 March 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee